There was once a man who got attacked by a lion and a leopard on two separate occasions. Who ís, actually, the man is still alive. He’s sitting with me around a campfire right this moment, explaining the different killing strategies of the two big cats by showing me the scars on his body. “See, Laura, what a lion does is hang onto a limp and not let go, to eventually suffocate you or crush your spine.” Yikes. “The leopard, on the hand, rips off pieces of your flesh, by turning it in small circles.” Jeepers... “This leopard even tore the skin of my forehead, blocking my eyes, which is why I didn’t know where to shoot.” If it wasn’t for the darkness of the African bush surrounding us, he could’ve seen my eyes widening and skin slowly turning pale. “So Gerrie, why is it that you keep being attacked by all these predators?” “It’s human-wildlife conflict Laura. Sometimes you gotta protect the people from the predators and the predators from the people. So I’m on the frontline to catch these animals and move them to a safer place.”

“You know”, Gerrie continues, “it’s better to just give these animals some space and let them move away naturally. Drag some guts down a trail, lure them out you know?” “Some whats?” “Some antelope guts.” I can feel my mouth dry out. “Oh yeah, I mean, I know.” He carries on talking about the time a decomposing zebra stomach exploded all over his shirt, and about a student who accidently stepped in a bucket full of wildebeest guts during one of his night counts. “We can count some hyenas tomorrow night if you like?” he asks. “Yeah, sure,” I reply, while struggling to swallow. The next day I help him carry half an impala on the back of his truck. It’s like a whole impala, but then cut in half. Apparently hyenas go wild over it if you hang one up in a tree. After about two hours of counting, Gerrie suddenly opens the door of his of car and gets out. “No Gerrie, no!” I shout. “Relax Laura, it’s fine. Hyenas hardly ever attack. I’m just gonna pull the impala up a bit higher.” I hear bushes move in the darkness, either from Gerrie walking away from, or hyenas walking towards, the car. “Hardly ever, that’s good...”

As we drive back we get a call through the walkie talkie, with the request to pick up a guy on the way, in seemingly the middle of nowhere. Not much later, a big guy in khaki outfit gets in the car with us. “It’s been quite a day Gerrie. We dehorned three rhinos this morning,” the big guy says. “You did what?!” I stumble from the backseat. “Oh we do it all the time. Leave the poachers hanging, suits them right.” “H-how?” “Some tranquilizers and chainsaws, that’s all you need really,” he replies. I try to imagine a world in which another animal species, say red foxes, kill us just to get hold of our earlobes, for no sensible reason, and that gray foxes then notice that there’s hardly any humans left, because we only got two small earlobes each, whereas foxes can eat wáy more than that. And that the gray foxes then catch us, sedate us, and cut our earlobes off, to keep us safe from the red foxes, and sometimes even fight till death to protect us. “So how did your evening go?”, the guy asks. I snap out of my thoughts. “It was fine, we dragged some guts down a trail, you know,” I say nonchalantly. I don’t mention that I practically almost died when Gerrie opened the car door, just moments earlier.

Another time when I practically almost died was in Zimbabwe, when I joined a guy named Johnnie for a little trip. After about three hours of bouncing in his car on a bumpy road, one of his back wheels started making a metally sound. Johnnie pulled the break, hung out of his window, swore a bit, and concluded that we were stuck with a flat tire. After digging up his tools, he gazed at me: “Can you quickly hold the shot gun while I change the tire, there are lions everywhere.” “Lions? Everywhere?” I stuttered. “Just aim and pull the trigger if you have to alright?” he continued. Before I could answer, he shoved the gun in my hands and walked to the back of the car. “Alright. Well, good luck then Johnnie. Johnnie? Johnnie!” I see blood, funerals, and grieving mothers flash in front of my eyes. “Laura, I’m right here, just changing the tire remember?” It probably didn’t help that before our trip he was talking about a ranger that got chowed by lions. “I’m sure these lions would love a little Dutch treat Laura,” Johnnie said. That same evening I was lying horizontal in a tent, while listening to his stories. Apparently, hyenas once dragged a friend of his out of the tent, with sleeping bag and all. But he left the tent open, he reasoned, that was the problem. “They hardly ever break through a tent’s zipper, so we should be fine.” It was about 30 degrees in the tent, but I quietly zipped my sleeping bag all the way up to my chin. “Should be fine, that’s a relief...”

So what these men, and women just the same, are actually doing is better understand the animals they love and desperately want to keep around for future generations to enjoy. Because who can really imagine a world without wild animals, and the possibility of leopards and hyenas creeping up on us? Some people don’t want to imagine, which is why they dedicate their lives to avoid it ever having to come that far. “You know Laura”, Gerrie says, “I just want to share the joys of nature with people. Have them experience what I get to experience.” I smile in full appreciation. “Let me get a bit more braai bread while the fire is still hot,” he continues. I lean back in my camping chair, until I hear plates shattering on the kitchen floor. “No worries Laura, it was just a snake. Just a mamba of some sort.” “Holy shit Gerrie, are you okay?” “Sure thing, snakes are hardly a problem. They seldom bite. I only had it a couple of times.” Holy shit. “You know Laura, I once had this friend of mine who had a cobra spit in his face, and he blew up like a balloon. He looked awful I tell ya, like my neighbour when he got attacked by a swarm of giant savannah wasps.” I can feel my pupils dilate. “Gerrie, can we just enjoy the sound of bush crickets for a moment?” “Sure Laura, not a problem. Let me quickly get some more fire wood.” As the fire light dims and sound of crickets intensifies, he walks off into the darkness. “You know what Gerrie, maybe uhm... I actually think we have enough fire wood. Gerrie? Gerrie!”